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Feeling like a champion: Hip-hop's chemical romance with Ecstasy [UPDATE]

When Hotlanta rapper-turned-movie star T.I. was arrested on drug possession charges earlier this month, there was a feeling of “haven’t we all been here before?” But also genuine surprise.

From ODB to DMX, Kanye to 'Pac, hip-hop performers have a chronic habit of getting busted for stupid stuff. Identity theft. Cruelty to animals. Wearing a bulletproof vest after being convicted of a felony. Rappers behaving badly have become one of popular culture’s most numbing constants. After all, T.I. was already on probation when L.A. County sheriff’s deputies stopped his $600,000 Mercedes Maybach on the Sunset Strip for what they said was an illegal U-turn and then detected what they said was “a strong odor of marijuana emitting from the vehicle”; earlier this year, he served a seven-month prison sentence for attempting to buy a cache of automatic weapons and silencers.

But celeb watchers began scratching their heads after deputies reported that Clifford “T.I.” Tip Harris and his new wife, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, were also in possession of “a small amount of Ecstasy” (in addition to weed and testing positive for codeine).

Since when do gangsta rappers dabble in designer drugs?

His bust arrives at a moment of renewed public scrutiny of Ecstasy, just three months after teenager Sasha Rodriguez’s overdose death from the drug at downtown Los Angeles’ Electric Daisy Carnival helped reestablish E’s reputation as a potential killer. The recently released annual report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that Ecstasy consumption has jumped 37% in America over the last year. Meanwhile, rave culture has made significant moves toward the mainstream, with bleary, Euro synth beats becoming the dominant sound of both hip-hop and Top 40 pop. Coincidence?

But T.I.’s legal case also underscores another cultural groundswell, coming at a time when Ecstasy is reaching a kind of critical mass in hip-hop.

In the last three years, it’s been shouted out in songs more than ever and, increasingly -- if lyrics are any indication -- washed down in the VIP room by some of rap’s best and brightest. Just don’t go looking for them to shout out Ecstasy by name. Codified references to “X pills” and “double stacks” (as extra large tablets are known), being “geeked out” or “feelin’ myself” allow them to hide the drug’s usage in plain sight.

Not that all rappers -- or, at least, the "characters" in their songs -- take pains to cover his or her tracks.

In 2008, hip-hop’s most crazily free-associative and prolific MC, Lil Wayne, was arrested on cocaine and Ecstasy possession charges. Facing possible incarceration, Weezy nonetheless made his penchant for the drug known in 2009 with the paean “Pill Poppin’ Animal” (featuring Rick Ross). “Stickin’ on a double stack, you’re rollin’ wit a rich boy!” Ross exclaims (in one of the song's few lines suitable for publishing on a family newspaper blog).

[Correction: An earlier version of this blog post erroneously identified Lil Wayne as being responsible for the lyrics above.]

Likewise, Atlanta trap rapper Gucci Mane has never disguised his fondness for Ecstasy, extolling rolling on a number of different cuts over the years. On 2007’s “Pillz,” he instructs the listener to “put that bean on your tongue,” adding later: “I’m off three double stacks and I’m lookin’ for that action.”

Meanwhile, on his 2007 collabo with Young Jeezy, “Geeked Up,” rapper Fabo vividly describes the borderline hallucinatory effects of taking X while driving through one of Atlanta’s most famous neighborhoods: “I’m startin’ to see spaceships on Bankhead / I roll with gangstas, pill poppers and dank heads.”

Jay-Z says he's never tried the designer drug -– also known by the call letters for its chemical name methylenedioxymethamphetamine. And yet on his smash single “Empire State of Mind,” he gives Ecstasy an explicit shout-out: “MDMA got you feeling like a champion /City never sleeps, better slip you an Ambien.”

Or consider the recent efforts of Brooklyn rap Barbie Nicki Minaj. On her club banger (featuring Lil Wayne) “Higher Than a Kite,” Minaj devotes a throwaway line to Ecstasy’s accessibility as well as its ubiquity. “You getting ill, I bet, poppin’ a pill again,” she raps. “I’m the island and I’m lookin’ for Gilligan.”

Time was when the drug of choice for rappers was either weed or booze (or, in certain cases down South, sippin’ on "sizzurp"). And the notion of ingesting a powerful love drug -– one known to overwhelm a person’s inhibitions, eliciting bro hugs and feelings of cosmic interconnectivity that are distinctly at odds with rap’s dog-eat-dog mentality -- would have been as improbable as an MC wearing tight jeans.

But things began to change when Eminem burst on the scene.

In a 1999 Rolling Stone interview, the hard-rhyming pill-popper consumed no fewer than three Ecstasy tablets in the presence of an interviewer and then bragged, “I wrote two songs for my next album on Ecstasy.”

Within two years, more and more references to the drug had spread across the mainstream. On Missy Elliott’s 2001 hit album “Miss E … So Addictive” (um, get it?), the rapper devotes the slow-burn chill-out cut “X-tasy” to articulate certain conditions associated with consumption. Such as feeling “so energized” and describing the artificial love vibes that accompany the drug. “Ecstasy, I’m willing to do all the things I said I wouldn’t do /On Ecstasy, the feelin’ makes me feel like I’m in love with you,” Elliott raps.

That same year, on “X,” his collaboration with Elliott, rapper Ja Rule framed the drug’s merits in a different way: “How we relieve that stress? X / You know, pop them thangs, get extra horny, girl.”

More recently, such hip-hop subgenres as Southern California’s jerkin’ dance movement and hyphy in the Bay Area made widespread references to taking Ecstasy (“thizzing” in hyphy parlance). And this year, on-again-off-again A Tribe Called Quest frontman Q-Tip portrayed an Ecstasy dealer in the Sundance Film Festival official selection about Hasidic X pill smugglers, “Holy Rollers.”

But when it comes to laying bare the swirl of physical side effects, social ramifications and potential health ills associated with the drug, Tech N9ne’s chopped and screwed ode to Ecstasy, “T9X,” comes as close to an exegesis on the subject as any rap song has to date.

“10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, feelin’ butterflies /My eyes dilate another size /Overwhelming sense of love got this nut so sprung / Walk up to a stranger, ‘Can I suck your tongue?' ” N9ne raps over an ominous beat.

After detailing how he has taken “five pills” over the course of an eve, the rapper catalogs certain physical sensations: “Tingling baby, got me feelin’ like mingling, baby /This is hella ‘Higher Learning’ than Singleton, baby /One minute I’m cold, the next I’m heat /Get me some Big Red so I don’t grind my teeth.”

In the end, though, Tech N9ne pays lip service to the inherent dangers of taking too much. “It’s pills and mo’ thrills,” he raps. “I’m lucky if I survive. I’m high!”

-- Chris Lee

[UPDATE: An earlier version of this story erroneously attributed

Photo: Lil Wayne. Credit: Peter Kramer / Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (25)

low life

LOL @ eminem eating 3 beans in front of the interviewer.
that is classic!
yea ecstacy is cool the first time....
every time after that sucks ass.
now ecstacy and acid at the same time.....thats another story.. :o)

no, emm305, "high life"

Ecstasy is currently grouped with heroin, cocaine, crack and LSD as Class A. What a joke. Ecstasy-related deaths are rare when compared to any of these drugs, and certainly when compared to alcohol or tabacco-related deaths. If this is what our law enforcement and court system wants to spend valuable resources on, perhaps we can lay some of them off, and use that money to give tax refunds or fill potholes.

Interesting how this well "researched" story came out just right before "Nocturnal" festival tomorrow (produced by Insomniac)-the same producers of EDC is having another rave in San Bernardino tomorrow with world class electronica DJ acts which I will also be going to. Who cares of about who takes what these days??? It been extremely blown out of proportion. "Dont Knock It, till You Try IT."

What a pathetically written article? I was hoping to read some commentary or insight into hip-hop's relationship with ecstacy. Instead, the writer just listed songs that mentioned the drug. A high schooler could have written this article.

" ' xcuse me while I kiss the sky"... Been there, done that, lived to tell about it. The kids will grow up, just like the kids before them.

All forms of music have been talking about drugs forever. Before hip hop was ever created...So kick rocks!

in no way trying to say that Lil Wayne doesn't rap about X...but um...that's Rick Ross' line you quoted.

Like most of the rap and hip hop genre, there's a few that actually read the news and adopt bits for their music. The there's the rest of the pack trying to "out cred" one another by seeing who can out stupid one another. And of course, the listeners will believe every bit of it, just like professional wrestling.

Of course, as should be obvious in ANY successful business, there will always be the drive to get into a piece of the pie by imitation.

I suspect if Death Row Records released a tract extorting the benefits of Palmolive dish soap, it wouldn't be long before others followed suit.

Dr Dre is doing an electronic album (or is that electchronic).

After 22 years hip hop culture is finally discovering the summer of love. Can't wait to see Eminem wearing an Acid House T-shirt.


you need to work a little on your research Mr.Lee.. TI's .Maybach is valued far less than 600,000!!

Well-said, Todd. Bad form, LA Times.

Pathetic losers.

not to bring race into this but this writer is either white ...or white washed "..feelin myself " is not a term for being on X .. its a term ... im not even going to publish ..because the term is the definition .. i think its a shame we get put under the microscope and analyzed like a case study or a thesis .. go study your own history and come up with your own futures .. instead of tryin to figure out what youll obviously will never understand .. smdh

Is this journalism? Is a point being made?

Minorities doing drugs at a rampant rate and in high quantities? Say it isn't so.

DISLIKE! Of course a comment like this is music to the ears of its oh so inexperienced author, but as said in comments before me, "musicians have been taking drugs for a long time" don't hate, APPRECIATE that you even get to hear their side of the story, thats why we love them, thats why we hate them, they are ARTISTS not accountants. If anyone cared about your bad habits as much as they do for the above listed musicians I am confident we could dig up some blog worthy skeletons, but alas it matters not. To each his own, and at the end of the day we all fall short. HIPHOP LIVES

Joel Wyatt wrote:
Ecstasy is currently grouped with heroin, cocaine, crack and LSD as Class A. What a joke. Ecstasy-related deaths are rare when compared to any of these drugs,

Uh . . . LSD has a nearly infinite LD/ED ratio (that's lethal dose to effective dose), whereas Ecstasy has a ratio which compares unfavorably even with alcohol. Taking 3 ecstasy tablets could kill you. Also it reportedly permanently downregulates serotonin receptors. That's why it has a really great effect ONCE, after which the crash is increasingly severe. (Reportedly alpha-lipoic acid can help protect your serotonin metabolism.)
A better name for it would be "euphoria." Also, it should be known that there are plenty of analogue drugs out there, sometimes poorly understood by anyone whose last name isn't Shulgin. In addition there are pills sold as X which are mixtures of ingredients like meth, coke, heroin, and so on. MDMA may have some (extremely limited in my view) therapeutic uses, but casual use has its dangers. Finally--people who are already taking SSRIs or other drugs which affect the serotonergic systems should beware serotonin syndrome when taking X-class drugs.

1. The largest ectasy bust in the history of the DEA involved an Israeli drug ring.

2. Most of these originally poor black rappers are signed to labels run and managed by American Jews.

3. The link between the mostly Jewish-run US entertainment industry (Hollyood and New York), its abusive and abused slaves (actors, singers and dancers), and drug cartels/dealers is well known.

4. This is not anti-Semitism: I'd say the same for :

* domestic tobacco and alcohol products from WASP-run companies;
* cocaine from South America (Bolivia and Colombia);
* Heroin from Asia
* Guns from German and Swiss gun companies

Stop all this mediocre reporting that everything is so "coincidental": everything is institutionalized and operates on a global market level.

A great role model.

I always love social commentary like this because the most ignorant people in the country will comment and bring up race, lack of education, poor upbringing, etc which have very little to do with increasing drug use in this country. Your ivy league daughter is probably scheduling a pick up of her weekly 1/8th right now.

If you don't understand the hip hop or drug culture, then its not for you, so just keep your head under that rock.

terrible research. didnt even get the lines to the songs right....at least use google and look up the lyrics b4 writing an article

The drug of choice changes but the methods remain the same. An addict is less likely to concern his or herself with the finite details of their finances. X is simply the new coke which replaced heroin as the drug of choice for musicians decades ago. The difference here being artists and musicians in past generations weren't encouraged to promote their addiction struggles for fear of ruining their public image. It just goes to show the power of the media and how effective music is in the crafting of negative imagery. Addicts are weak no matter how you slice it, promote or spin it. It doesn't matter if your drug of choice is grown in the backyard, cooked on the kitchen stove or flown in from some European locale, if the drug, person or activity "for that matter," is controlling you, you're weak .

It amazes me that rappers are still being put under a microscope for the things they do but people in other genres do what they feel and no no one really has anything to say about it. Rappers are the ones who get longer prison and jail sentences but when it comes to drugs and Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan it's merely probation.


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